U.S. stars need to return home

February 2, 2009
DavisBy Steve Davis
(Archive)

A few intrepid American souls have exported their soccer talents majestically. Fellows like Kasey Keller, Brian McBride and others went abroad and soared, soon living large and making out quite well, thank you very much.

GettyImages / David RogersBobby Convey's diminished playing time at Reading has alerted MLS teams.

For plenty of other American exports, however, soccer in Europe is more like a sophomore-year-abroad escapade. You know: You get the gig, do it up right, "time of your life" stuff, but then you get back here where you belong.

The trick is always in knowing which one you are. If you have the staying power, good for ya. But if not, the trick is all about timing, about knowing when to say "when" and getting back to the States before your career is as dead as Vanilla Ice's.

It appears that "when" is right about now for three Americans whose careers have reached a plateau abroad.

It's time for DaMarcus Beasley, Bobby Convey and Eddie Johnson to get back on the big jet and come home, probably for good.

Talk about three little lost sheep who need to find their way home. These guys probably should be starting for Bob Bradley's team. But that's not an option, as they are hopelessly adrift with their clubs. MLS is a better place for them right now, a forgiving and soft spot to land after engine failure over Europe. Best-case, they would come home during the current window.

Beasley's career has gone stale at Rangers. Ditto for Convey at Reading in England's second tier. And Johnson can't start at Cardiff City, for goodness' sake. He is so far down the totem pole that a few U.S. fans actually got excited about his added-time cameo for Cardiff (all of 1 minute) against Arsenal on Jan. 25.

Yep. It's come to that.

It's hard to see the situation getting better any time soon for the trio. As Americans, guys like Convey, Beasley and Johnson will rarely get the benefit of the doubt. If all things are equal, they'll almost always sit the bench while indigenous talent claims the minutes. That's just how it is.

Convey has 97 appearances for Reading since his 2004 arrival, which isn't terrible. He made a ruckus during a monster 2005-06 campaign, as the Royals tore up the English Championship and landed in the venerable EPL. Convey was a major part of that memorable push, staking a spot on the left side of Reading's attack.

But his career has been injury-interrupted and generally less distinguished since. A grand total of 29 Premiership appearances marked Convey's contributions to the club's two years in the spotlight. Back in the (second tier) Championship this year, Convey has just six appearances in the 08-09 campaign; just three as a starter.

Reading is well-positioned for a possible Premiership return, but there's no indication that Convey is central to the plan going forward.

Imagine if he could get fit, find his form, get back in Bradley's graces and perhaps claim that left back spot for which he seemed bound on the national team. Heath Pearce has a tenuous hold on the trouble spot for now, but does anyone see him as the long-range solution?

Convey has recently been linked to a return stateside, perhaps for San Jose or Los Angeles. He might also be entertaining Scandinavian overtures, which seems like an odd response.

For MLS players eager to taste soccer abroad, teams in Norway, Sweden and Denmark do provide an accessible port of entry. It makes sense for a Michael Parkhurst or a Clarence Goodson, or any other player yet to sip from the Euro-soccer fountain. But can a guy like Convey, with two years of Premiership experience highlighting his CV, really benefit by toiling away at FC Nordsjaelland, FC Midtjylland or any other of the difficult-to-pronounce, consonant-heavy alphabet soup of Scandinavian clubs? Doubtful, although the pay might be slightly better.

Convey turns 26 later this year. He's got plenty of good soccer ahead, assuming he can beat back the injury bug. Beasley is just a little further along, set to turn 27 in May. But he should consider a return stateside for another reason: He has probably done everything he can in Europe.

Beasley's best days came during a three-year hitch at PSV Eindhoven, when he successfully succeeded Chelsea-bound winger Arjen Robben. Under managerial wizard Guus Hiddink, Beasley was a semi-fixture on a PSV side that claimed Eredivisie honors and advanced splendidly into the Champions League semifinals.

But the wheels started to come off from there. A disappointing loan to Manchester City and an unfortunate driver's license suspension for operating under the influence preceded a move to Rangers in Scotland. He has more or less disappeared since. His lack of playing time at Ibrox shows, as flagging confidence has marked underwhelming performances in the national jersey.

A change of scenery would clearly do him good. And what could help more than returning to MLS, where he can surely reclaim difference-making status?

Speaking of lost confidence, Johnson's game depends on feeling good and right about things more than any of the three. Midfielders like Convey or Beasley can perhaps work themselves out of a funk through greater industry, making things happen through sheer determination.

Not so with strikers. It's all about production. You're either scoring or you're probably sitting. Johnson, on loan from Fulham, has yet to score for Cardiff in 19 appearances, just five as a starter.

Contrast that with 15 goals for Kansas City in 2007, prompting the move to Fulham. Say what you will about MLS, but lots of quality strikers have come and gone without striking 15 times over 24 matches.

For Johnson, it's all about being comfortable and motivated -- and feeling wanted. There are a dozen MLS sides that would plug Johnson right into the starting lineup today. He needs that. In fact, it's getting harder to see an alternate outcome right now. So why not make the move sooner rather than later?

Given Bradley's inclination to provide the mercurial striker with lots of chances, Johnson would presumably be right back in the national-team fold with just a sprinkle of MLS success.

All three have the natural talent to be solid international starters, perhaps even impact players. Bradley, with a team in transition and a huge year ahead, can surely use the options.

Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com.